Porous borders, unstable governments, and limited reach of law enforcement services contribute to lower security levels, especially in West Africa. This situation is highly conducive to the establishment of transnational organised crime. Indeed, the region's illicit economies move largely through the roads. To help prevent this, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime(UNODC)implemented Operation "Open Roads III: for safer borders", funded by the German Foreign Office. This activity is part of the XAMU50 project: Assistance to the ECOWAS and to Member States in West and Central Africa for the Development and Implementation of Drug Control and Crime Prevention Strategies.
Operation Open Roads III aims at countering illicit trafficking and organized crime in all its forms between the Gambia, Guinea Bissau and Senegal, by disrupting criminal networks, strengthening interagency cooperation, and the exchangeof intelligence. The particularity of these three neighbouring countries is that, despite their geographical proximity, they are very heterogeneous and each of them has a different official language and justice systems, which prevents the transfer of information and data.
This international joint operation started its preparatory phase in August 2022. After a regional stakeholder’s meeting, a specialized training in each one of the three countries and a regional pre-operational meeting, the cross-border operation took place between 10thand 12th November 2022.
During these three days, an Operational Coordination Unit (OCU)was set up in Banjul, The Gambia, to coordinatethe deployment of 316 officers to the different border posts. A total of twenty posts were involved in the operation: ten in Senegal, six in The Gambia and four in Guinea Bissau. The OCU was composed by Interpol experts, members of ROSEN's Law Enforcement section, INTERPOL and Narcotics Control Bureau’s (NCB)experts as well asndthe West African Network of Central Authorities and Prosecutors (WACAP) focal points, and the coordinators of each country's delegation: the Judicial Police of Guinea Bissau, the DLEAG (Drug Law Enforcement Agency, The Gambia) of The Gambia and the OCRITS (in French, Office Central pour la Repression du Traffic Illicite de Stupéfiants) of Senegal. Indeed, the
This operation has been successfully accomplished with great number of seizures. In total, 17,673 kilos of cannabis indica, 102,4 kilos of falsified medical products, 2 pistols with ammunition, and 18 stolen vehicles. The number of persons arrested was 11 among the 4065 checked.
The innovation of this cross-border operation was the possibility of sharing information in real time between the different stakeholders.
A symbolic example of this synergistic work is that, thanks to the rapid access to the Interpol’s database, eighteen vehicles stolen from Western Europe and circulating normally in Guinea Bissau were quicklyintercepted.
In addition to the border surveillance,a cross-border simulation exercise on controlled delivery was also organized. This exercise was based on a fictitious case in which the objective was to dismantle a criminal drug trafficking network by tracking a vehicle that left Bissau and crossed southern Senegal to reach Banjul. The objective of this exercise was to strengthen the coordination of three different legal systems and their respective operational assistance.
Following the cross-border operation, a series of debriefings took place in December 2022. The objective was, on the one hand, to strengthen institutional cooperation and, on the other, to jointly analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the course of the operational phase of Open Roads III. A meeting was held at Interpol headquarters (Lyon, France) and a visit was made to the Italian Central Directorate for Anti-drug Services (DSCA, Rome, Italy). There, transregional perspectives and strategies and possible opportunities for collaboration and cooperation were shared.
To bring all these conversations, reflections, and experiences to a close, a workshop on “best practices and lessons learnt” was also held (Dakar, Senegal). On this occasion, Law Enforcement agencies, together with Judicial Authorities and with the support of UNODC, shared recommendations at the strategic and operational level.
Among some of these recommendations we can highlight units the strengthen of inter-agency coordination at the national level for prompt, regular and rational sharing of information and the improvement of exchanges between prosecutors and law enforcement officers.
UNODC salutes the strong commitment and motivation of the Senegalese, Gambian and Bissau-GuineanGuineanLaw Enforcement Agencies involved in the Operation, Interpol's strategic support throughout the operation,as well as theinvaluable interest of the German Foreign Office in the fight against illicit trafficking and organised crime in West Africa and Central.